Celia. Selena. Jenni.
Their first names are all we need to know who they are. But there is so much more to their lives that we are still telling their stories years after their deaths.
Biopics about Latin musical artists are not new. Three decades ago, Lou Diamond Phillips portrayed Ritchie Valens in La Bamba, released in 1987. But it seems that we are seeing these type of biographical productions more often. Telemundo’s Celia series was such a success — it debuted in the U.S. in October 2015 with 2.38 million viewers – that Netflx has decided to program all 80 episodes with English subtitles. And while the movie about her life came out in 1997, a TV series on Selena based on her widower’s book, “To Selena, With Love,” started production last year.
Coming soon: Expect to see biopics on Luis Miguel, Don Omar and even Pitbull. Perhaps now that Ednita Nazario has finished her book, “Una Vida,” we may see something about her on the screen.
But what’s most anticipated this year is the other Jenni Rivera story, Telemundo’s “Mariposa del Barrio” series. Based on the book “Unbreakable,” the show is still in production and expected to start airing this summer. But Jenni’s daughter and sister talked about it Tuesday at the Latin Billboard Conference in Miami–promising unreported details about la reina de la banda’s life.
This is the other story because Jenni Rivera’s family, now managing Jenni Rivera Enterprises, has sued Univision for $10 million after it began to air a series based on her on-again, off-again manager Pete Salgado’s book, “Her Name Was Dolores, The Jenn I Knew.” Rosie Rivera, the Mexican singer’s younger sister, told the Billboard crowd that they would have worked with Salgado if he had respected their wishes to keep certain things private and wait a bit after her shocking death in 2012 in a plane crash.
Soon after, TV network executives began courting the family to tell her story. “For us, it seemed a natural,” said Glenda Pacanins, senior vice president of programming and content for Telemundo. “Our mission is to go after the big, iconic story. We really wanted to honor her spirit and do it in a way that is authentic and true.” They approached the family in 2013 about a series.
“Everybody wanted a Jenni Rivera series,” Rosie Rivera recalled. “The family just wasn’t ready. And Telemundo was so patient. The children had to heal.” What they didn’t realize was that the production of the series would become part of that healing.
Chiquis Rivera, born to a teenaged Jenni Rivera before she became a big star, said she cried when the writers started asking questions about her mother and she was transported to her past when she visited the set that was supposed to be her grandmother’s house. “I was seven years old again and I could smell los frijoles en la olla and the Pine Sol.”
The details are what make the series, both of the Rivera women said. And it was hard work getting there. Rosie admitted that she may have requested too many changes. “I would say, ‘Oh no, she would say it like this,’” she said, telling producers to add “more bad words” because Jenni wasn’t shy. “I don’t want my sister to look perfect. She was perfectly imperfect.”
Rosie Rivera said that this official biopic series will not hide some of the ugly chapters of Jenni’s life – including the teen pregnancy, domestic violence and some of the mistakes she made. “It’s going to be the good, the bad, the ugly and the pretty. It wouldn’t be doing her justice just to paint a rosy picture.”
The series is more about Jenni as a child as a sister as a mother than as a musician and her daughter said she learned things about her mom when her aunt or grandmother were being interviewed by the writers. “I want to watch the series because there are things I didn’t know,” she said. “We are 15 years apart. We sort of raised each other.”
They also say that the details were wrong in the Univision series and Jenni Rivera Enterprises and the family is suing Salgado for $10 million. Not only does the book and series defame the late star, they say, but the ex manager also violated a non-disclosure agreement spilling family secrets.
In response to a question from the audience, Rosie Rivera said “if Pete Salgado would have come to the family, we would have said okay. All I asked for was to give my parents and her children some respect.” And, of course, to treat her sister’s memory with care. “But because of other situations with Pete, I kind of knew it wasn’t going to be an honor,” Rosie Rivera said. “It’s an injustice to the truth.”
When producers first pulled up to the house that would serve as Jenni’s childhood home for the series, a Jenni song started to play on the radio. “It felt at the moment that this is right and we felt she was with us,” Pacanins, the Telemundo exec said. “We worked with her brothers and sisters, her kids, her mom and dad. That helped us stay true to the story.”
“It definitely has Jenni’s blessing.”
In another panel discussion afterwards, Luis Balaguer, founder and CEO of Latin World Entertainment – which co-produced Univision’s “Her Name Was Dolores” series – said that Hispanic biopics do well around the globe because the culture is so intense.
“We as a race are so passionate about music, about life,” Balaguer said. “It’s incredible how they are so welcoming of our culture and how they see it as a very happy, very lively culture. A wedding reception without Pitbull and Ricky [Martin] is a funeral.”
Added Nazario: “We Hispanics, we are very transparent.”